To be a black woman in contemporary Britain is a lot. Our bodies are over-policed, exoticised and brutalised. Our minds are gaslighted and over-medicated. Our existence is constantly questioned. If we object to this treatment, if we plead or demand our humanity be acknowledged, we are mostly ignored.
Zawe Ashton’s play For All the Women Who Thought They Were Mad is about this experience. Her words are weighted with respect for these women, her play an illustration of all of the above, and more. It’s easy to get lost in this scattered narrative but this feels intentional – a reflection of that reality.
Though better known as an actor – she’s currently in Betrayal in New York – Ashton has a strong track record as a writer. This play has taken some time to make it to the stage, but it’s been worth it. Jo McInnes’ production is enhanced by a set of captivating performances. Jumoké Fashola’s matriarch is charmingly formidable and Rae Ann Quayle’s assured final speech unexpectedly heartbreaking.
Ultz and Natalie Pryce’s set design resembles a police interview room – the sleek, clean lines of the glossy black surfaces are broken only by strips of fluorescent light. It’s fitting, since the piece feels like a 90-minute interrogation of Joy (Mina Andala), who has every last detail of her life endlessly scrutinised by the people around her. A white male doctor eventually concludes she is mad – in the end, she believes him.
In a society where black women can be invisible and yet hyper-visible at the same time, Ashton’s play is like a soothing balm for a wound.